VOGONS


First post, by creepingnet

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Hi there and feel free to oogle stuff. I've been wanting to post a thread like this for awhile, but I have so little time, and so much stuff going on that it's been really hard for me to get things started.

Anyway, before we dig in to this first post, I might explain a few things before I get started. Some of the posts I'll be doing are actually of OLD builds. I've been messing with x86 IBM Compatibles since 1997 and really got serious about it in 2001 when most of the things popular now were "doorstops", "dinosaurs", and "Boat anchors". I've owned a lot of systems, so I figured outside of my website - which is limited to 100mb of space, no better place than here to go into details on my retro-computing madness than here.

Typically I tend to stick around in the realm of the very-old Pre-Pentium PC's (though there are some Pentiums and newer in here where applicable), with a huge focus on the 80486 era for the most part. Today, we'll start with my most recent aquisition - the NEC Versa M/75, which is a work in progress (most of my more recent machines are a constant work-in-progress). Some of these might span several posts as well since they have some pretty long histories.

1994 NEC VERSA M/75 w/ System 2000 Commpaq Words+

This is a good post because it's a good, concise, clear introduction to my methods to this madness. Let's start at the beginning, why the NEC Versa? Any why does one purchase an 80486 laptop in 2020?

Why the NEC Versa?

When I started messing with this stuff, laptop computers in the early 2000s, even 486's - so as long as they were color - tended to retain value. I was still seeing them for $70+, even back in 2003. Back then, one of the most expensive old 486-era laptops was the NEC Versa M/P/V/E and 20/25/33 models. They would go for $80+ usually on e-bay, and usually people were chipping in brand new batteries to sweeten the deal. However, at the time, I was not yet in my career, and kind of poor....I was 20. So I knew they must be a good one - so I always kept the NEC Versa in my back pocket as one of the "good" vintage laptops - for a time where they just might become cheaper.

Skip ahead to now. It's 2020, I've had multiple vintage laptop computers over the years (Twinhead SlimNotes, Duracom/Eurocom/Sager/NanTan/Prostar 486 stuff, AT&T Safari 3151 - which was a major determining factor for the Versa as I heard they were made by NEC or NCR, IBM ThnkPads, and a Zenith Data Systems SuperSport 286 at one point, and even a Macbook from the early 90's as well....whch I sold).....and I wanted to find one that fit the following criteria.....

- Was available for $50 or under (willing to go a little over) - I have a budget, my fun budget I set aside each month is $50 for my projects
- any serious flaws with the hinges are easily fixed with epoxy/jb weld/etc. (as almost all old laptops, that was the #1 problem with them) - see next part....
- Parts are still widely available and inexpensive, I remember having to FIGHT to get a Compaq 486C Portable a new screen, I eventually sold it to someone WITH a screen
- Could be dockable....should I choose to downsize again
- Must be capable of running the widest range of vintage software possible.

So of course I looked at a TON of laptops - I'll go into this process more on the post about the Versa 40EC, but long story short. I discovered through that purchase the following things about NEC Versa 486s based on the M/E/P/V/20/25/33 platform......

- They are available for $50 under in working order often with PSU for the same reason - tight hinges, and brittle plastic.
- There are still plenty of parts available, I replaced the power and motherboards in the 40EC for $25.00, batteries to rebuild are $10/ea, Ebay has lots of NL6448AC30 screens
- The battery life on the original batteries is on par with a modern laptop, at least 2 hours, and as much as 4 hours, and cells are availible (1.2v "A")
- Various models share parts with each other, especially the removable screens between the 20/25/33/40Exx/Mxx - want touch? TFT Active Matrix? Mono? Just 2 latches!

As much as I love my 40EC, I wanted something a little more beefed up, plus I wanted an extra screen so I could focus on doing the JB Weld repair/makeovers to the hinge assemblies (I'm trying to develop a good, permanant repair that looks good). I also wanted the ability to play sound. Well, the M/75 has that, and then some, and I'd only recently become aware via the retrobattlestations Reddit that the M75 came with a touch screen - which it turns out was also availble for my 40EC.

And I already had one picked out, an "untested" one with a System 2000 Commpac Words+ attached to the bottom of the unit - some kind of Augmented Speech thing as it turns out (very home-built looking I might add). It was almost $80 a few months ago, but this go around it had dropped to around $50 with shipping - $37.99 for the actual laptop. Cheaper than the 40EC was for me. The hinge had the usual Versa 486 hinge damage...except the top was not damage, and I could see the screen crack looked WEIRD - like it was a top layer of glass - like a Digitizer. Later research I found the bezels for the Versa with a long bevel on the right side are touch screens, and they have a 1/8" phono jack on the right of the screen for a cabled "stylus".

YESTERDAY - THE M75 ARRIVES - Unboxing + Initial Inspection

The computer arrived and it was a very different experience than I was expecting. For starters, that Commpac Words + thing was VELCROED to the bottom of the computer and appears to have been built out of hobbyist electronic parts. It was seemingly custom-built for this particular laptop computer. All the doors were ripped off except the one for the large docking station port. The Commpaq Words+ attaches to the laptop via the parallel port and via a modified Serial Port PCMCIA Type II card marked "COM 2" which may have had a "dongle" conector that was ripped out and a ribbon cable put in it's place. All ports were labled with what looks like the work of a modern labelmaker (jeeze, how recently were they using this thing). A sticker on the bottom of the Commpac Words shows it was "sanitized by Micro Computer Services" on 6/12/2019 with someone's name on it in barely legable cursive - so this computer seems iit was "decommissioned" right before it was put on E-bay.

The M/75, as it turns out, came with no Floppy Drive, which has made data xfers of smaller files and drivers much more challenging. In it's place instead are not one but TWO OP-570-4701 "Smart Batteries" - these are NiMH 7.2v 3800mah batteries with a speciial controller board inside. One had about 1.84v on it after running it in the computer for an hour, the other read 0v regardless. I'm thinking with this laptop I may just replace them and/or have them properly rebuilt rather than try rejuvinating them.

The Hinge fared the trip TERRIBLY, which pretty much the entire front plastic around the hinge being cracked off by this point - not the fault of the seller - just regular Versa age-related destruciton. The hinge was solid and tight, and appears to be a different design than the one in my 40EC, likely to support the extra electronics inside the screen.

Powering on the machine revealed that the LCD was fine and what was cracked was exactly what I suspected, the Digitizer. The screen also seemed slightly yellow tinted and I could see some flickering bars in the back that seemed to get better the more I used that screen (caps possibly?).

The computer came with all the software preinstalled and working, including several programs for the CommPac Words+ of course. It also has McAfee VirusScan for Windows 3.1 installed and it appears this thing never hit the internet once in it's life (until that day, hehehehe). Also got to try out AVI and WAV files on it, seems to do pretty good at both video and audio - so I might consider putting Windows 95 on it in the future and installing Cakewalk 5 Pro Audio for a retro-portable-DAW, esp, since Bandlab has been ticking me off lateley with latency issues.

MOVING PARTS OVER FROM THE 40EC

Immediately after initial assessment, I removed both batteries and took their voltages (one has 1.84v after running the laptop for 10 minutes, but it never completed charging, the other is still at 0vdc). I moved the following parts over from the 40EC....

- 16MB RAM Card (for a total of 24MB of RAM)
- Tried my other 2 HDD on it, the old install on the 40EC's HDD fails because the 40EC has a WD video card, and the M75 uses C&T, FreeDOS runs great
- Cisco LMC-350 Aironet WiFI Card - bottom slot
- My Drive with FreeDOS on it
- Installing the good LCD from the Versa 40EC

I put the M75 LCD on the 40EC for the time being while I decide how I'm going to approach dismantling the hinge and rebuilding or making a custom replacement hinge cover. I'm shocked how sturdy that screen is given how compromised the plastic is.

FIXING PROBLEMS/CHANGING BIOS SETTINGS

After doing the switching out of parts above.....the machine runs great, but I did find more plastic damage inside, the corner of the palmwrest is completely broken off on the upper right corner, there were chunks of plastic everywhere under the screen hinge assembly, so much I had to dump it out of the connector to switch the screens.

I tried fitting the 40EC floppy drive to the M75 but while it will fit, it won't work because something changed in the design. Thankfully NEC had the forethought to put some kind of protection in. Which means I'm going to have to rely on Internet, FTPSrv, and a USB to IDE adapter for data xfers (except on one drive, which I'll get to later).

Took a little break, and then decided to pop the original M/75 touch screen to assess the damage to the Digitizer. This thing had been thouroughly annihilated! Shards of glass everywhere. I took photos of the connector and part# so I can source one (though I kind of already did before starting - I'm finding NL6448AC30 Digitizers for sale from Hong Kong and China on E-bay already for under $90). The Part is a 3M Microtouch R2.2 (revision 2.2) Part# 63-4631-00-01. The screen itself is a NEC NL6448AC30-10 - which is what the E-bay ads are advertising their Digitizers as being for - I've found one for $78 and one for $83. I do intend to repair/replaced this feature and even get the pen (or build one of my own).

I found however, my Aironet card was not working, and was not being found, and I did not see any drivers in either the archive.org 6GB zip file of the entire defunct NECAM FTP server, or on NEC America's site for the Versa. What I did eventually figure out is the BIOS had PCMCIA power turned OFF - and that's why the card was not working. Not sure if this was for the CommPac Words+'s hacked PCMCIA serial card, or if they replaced the CMOS battery sometime recently and forgot to turn it on (maybe leading to it's decomission?).

Some BIOS tweaks later, Aironet was working properly, and I could run FTPSRV and move files to it. I was going to try and install the audio card drivers to the Versa so sound would work in FreeDOS - but big problems - L470SNDA.EXE and L470SNDB.EXE are self-extracting archives that format and write to a 1.44M Floppy Diskette - the problem with this is there is no floppy, so I had to bring up the Versa 40EC and my 486 Desktop to copy the drivers.

So initially I used my 486 desktop using FileZilla on my Win10 laptop and FTPSRV on the 486 to copy the files over, but it would not write the floppies because the floppies MUST be written on an NEC branded machine - sheesh. So I threw the 40EC's original drive back in in it, copied the files via floppy to the 40EC, and then used MS-DOS 6.22 on the 40EC to write the floppies to the floppies the source files were xferered on. HOwever, one floppy diskette was bad (corrupting the write), so I grabbed two unused AT&T Floppies and put them to use. Eventually I got the drivers over to the freeDOS machine, but problem is ALL of the files were for Windows 3.1, there were no DOS utilities.......no DOS Diagnostics....back to the drawing board.

By this point I'd moved to the patio......twas a nice day outside...

So I decided to go into the Windows 3.1 NEC setup that the M75 came with and see if I could get my hands on the IO Address, IRQ, DMA, OPL, and other parameters so I could use a "SET BLASTER" Environment variable in FreeDOS to attempt to direct games to the sound card. But all of the digging found that there was no OPL3 drivers installed in Windows, Windows Sound System was installed (never knew of that for Windows 3.1...till now), and the C:\CRYSTAL directory looked like the contents of L480SNDB.EXE's written diskette which does not have the OPL3 files. One thing I did notice was the branding was "Crystal Business Audio" for everything in Windows 3.11.

So I decided to try looking for DOS drivers. I eventually tried the driver repository here at Vogons and tried some 4235 chipset drivers. Diagnostics from Crystal fails everything except the Windows Sound System part. Tried loading the drivers from the disks as DOS drivers - just got "illegal opcodes" - so I booted in step-by-step in FreeDOS and skipped the drivers and removed them from FDCONFIG.SYS.

Back in the house I decided to tear down the M75 to try and find what audio chip this thing uses. As the only thing I could find was "Business Audio" - which I kind of fear means no OPL - but it must have some kindo f OPL capabilities if the driver diskette has it....go figure.

Digging did not reaveal anything about the sound system, but I did take some photos and get some chip numbers. One significant chip I read about was the NEC "HI-TOP" chip which I recall either Beige-O-Vision or someone else on youtube talking about at some point. The HiTop chip is attached to a daughterboard under the CPU board, which also has it's own daughterboard that I think may have a RAM expansion on it. I think the audio chipset might be underneath the PCMCIA slots - which I don't feel like digging under to find at this point.

Later research revealed that this may be a chipset that's a bit "neutered" because it was designed for Windows Sound System, and was marketed more toward the buiness market, but being as the driver disk does have an OPL3 driver and OPL3.ini file in it, I think it might be possible to emulate OPL on the card from DOS. Just need to do more digging for obscure knowledge (I'm good at that) before I proceed any further.

As a final attempt, I tried running the Disk drivers with OPL on them from the HDD, but I'm missing a DIsk 2. It was here trying to get the files ON that drive I put it on my Linux Mint Thinkpad and found out someone used Drivespace disk compression on the M75's HDD (DOH!!) so had to slap it into my 486 Desktop via the Mobile Rack (Drive caddy) and use floppies to write files to it for Aironet, MTCP, and the Sound Card. So now I can get files on/off the original HDD now despite the drivespace limitation.

I tried installing Monkey Island and Voyetra Sequencer Pro on the orignal drive and found that running Monkey Island and Voyetra from Windows, even forcing adlib, does not work. So I might need to get Disk 2 for the setup disk, and then install all the driver to Windows with the OPL Enhancements - maybe a custom OPL driver is in order for the card.

THINGS THIS LAPTOP HAS FIXED

The first problem with the 40EC was NES emulation - I like using NESticle, and I like hacking roms with old tools like Hexpose and the original VGA version of TileLayer, and messing with shapes tables in NESticle. On the 40EC - running Nesticle in 256x256 caused the screen to repeat on the sides of the screen, which is just annoying. While 320x200 cuts off the bottom of the screen. It seems the C&T chipset does not have this problem. Also, RetroCity Rampage runs at full speed, and I can actually run Bolitare that comes with FreeDOS with it Games run better, and graphics are a lot more friendly.

FINAL ASSESSMENT

GOOD STUFF
- Screen behavior is a lot better and allows more apps to run or run properly
- I have audio now, I see some DAW potential in this setup (maybe Win95 and CakeWalk Pro Audio 5)
- The OG Hard Disk is in excellent shape
- The original screen still works, just the digitizer and hinge are damaged
- Performance is extremely good, almost on par with my DX4-100 desktop.
- despite compromised plastic the screen hinge on the original display is quite solid

BAD STUFF
- Digitizer is cracked, which means a costly gamble on Chinese replacements
- Can't find the pen for it (need part# or schematic)
- Having trouble with sound due to wonky Crystal Business Audio platform, diagnostics fails the MPU-401, OPL, and SB emulation parts, but passes Windows Sound System in FreeDOS
- Missing back cover to case for ports

TODO LIST FOR M/75

- Fix sound, get the supposed OPL3 emulation working in DOS, the drivers are listed as being for DOS
- Reproduce above on my 80GB drive
- install DOSAMP and some MP3s
- Replace the Digitizer on the original screen
- Diagnose flicker on original screen if it does not clear up
- Find part# and part for pen, or do some schematic study + research and design one of my own (I have a feeling the pen just allows for right hand clicks and what not)
- Replace/Repopulate the Batteries with some fresh NiMH cells
- Get Commpac Words+ working and try some things out, I will have to likely wait until AFTER touch is fixed since it seems to be a part of CommPac Words

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Last edited by Stiletto on 2020-08-08, 05:27. Edited 1 time in total.

~The Creeping Network~
My Website - https://sites.google.com/site/thecreepingnetwork/home
My Youtube Channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc6sYw9FvwuKahBHE_06diA

Reply 1 of 6, by chinny22

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old laptops don't get much love but I've started using them for my non gaming retro builds, workstations for my reto server networks and the like. They take up less space and realistically won't get used very often.
But I wouldn't put that much effort in on a laptop, nicely done 😀

Reply 3 of 6, by creepingnet

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NEC 40EC's Build-Up, Updates on the M/75 & it's Words Unit + Docking Station

So we know I have two NEC Versa 486 laptops - the M/75, and the 40EC. I've talked a bunch about the M/75, now let's talk about the 40EC's build.

I bought the 40EC off E-bay in August of 2019 - so a year ago. The computer came to me "untested" but "worked the last time I ran it before it was put in storage". The computer arrived while I was out at Hot August Nights the night before a Loverboy concert so I really had some other stuff going on at that time. And the laptop was VERY flaky about powering on when I got it - basically, I thought it was a bad charge jack, but it turned out to actually be a bad power-control board as I would find out a weekend or so ago.

I hunted around E-bay about 2 weeks after all that to find a new motherboard and power-control board for it, I found a combo of these for $25.00 so I bought it, and that's the board the computer has been using ever since. Motherboard swaps on a Versa 486 are actually among the least painful I've done, right up there with the Lenovo X1 Carbon Tough Gen1 or other similiarly modern computers with very simple construction. Everything just snaps together and like Beige-O-Vision says is like components in a sandwich. I had the Versa 40EC up and going with it's new logic board and power board in about 30 minutes - extremely fast for a 1990's laptop computer.

A short time later I started grabbing parts online quickly - I snapped up a 16MB RAM upgrade for just $15, I had a 80GB PATA HDD laying around which I setup with Windows 95 OSR 2.5 for a time, and I bought the two PCMCIA Wireless Network Cards with DOS Drivers - an Orinoco Silver based WaveLan Silver by Lucent Techcnologies, and a Cisco Aironet LMC-352 which is really meant for desktops with a PCMCIA to PCI/ISA adapter card, but I find it works great in this laptop, and if I really need a longer range at any time, I've got a nice big roll of copper wire I can run through the case and probably have as good a reception as a modern laptop 🤣. However, I still have yet to do this (I'm also planning for my custom antenna to play into the reinforcement of the case's brittle 1990's plastic).

Other issues I had to deal with included crumbling plastic (of course), tight screen hinge, a sticky Spacebar (this seems to come standard on all early 1990's NEC Versas, so cleaning the snap-on key mounts around the rubber domes while making sure they are straight, and "breaking it in" again was of utmost importance). I also had to buy a new CMOS Battery from Batteries+ Bulbs - it's not a CR2302 (though I might switch it to that someday), it's a CR2450 or something like that. Also, the Versa Trak was a bit skittish at first because the rubber bumpers the ball rides on were in the wrong spots, and the ball itself must have been used so much that it looks like a glossy marble. My M/75 has some texture and had none of these issues.

the crumbling screen backing, which went through three rounds of Epoxy over the course of a year. The first repair lasted just six months, the next one another six months and fully collapsed AFTER I got the M/75. So this next go around I got really serious about it and did the same fix I did to my M/75 right off the bat - I took the entire screen apart down to the plastic, roughed up surfaces with 400Grit Sandpaper, gathered broken bits of plastic, made a makeshift/handmade mold by putting foil tape over the still sturdy parts of the structure. I also added J.B. Weld Steelstik into the weak screw anchor portion of the screen hinge cover, and then proceeded to spread on layers - 3 total, of J.B. Weld Original Epoxy - let it set 24h - repeat, until 3 coats. After the third coat, ALL weak spots had been filled, after that was about an hour of Dremel Moto-Tool work to clear out spots for the components, in some ways incorporating them into the structure's strength. I also loosened the hinge clip a little bit. The resulting repair was even more flawless than that on the M/75 save for some visible color variation on the top cover, but honestly, I'm a lot happier this go around and it feels like it's going to last because that hinge moves smoothly rather than being super-tight.

Once all this work was done I decided to tackle the achilles heel of any 25-30 year old laptop - the main battery.........man, what an adventure this was.....

I still have the original OP-570-4401 battery, and bought an OP-570-4001, and an OP-570-4701 - all three are 7.2V 3800mah NiMH batteries containing 12 "A" cells running in two groups with separate grounds sharing a single positive and sense line (behind a 10K Thermistor). The original battery actually still was holding a charge somewhat, for about a minute or two of power, so I tried rejuvination on it. The 40EC still is using that original battery - if you can call it sitting inside, running on low contrast for 5 minutes "using" it (but hey, I have a docking station coming in).

A bit on battery chemistry - I AM familiar with the dangers of various battery chemistries. I have a GREAT story involving 2 Twinheads to tell in here someday when I do some "throwback" posts.....Anyway, these old laptops used NiCAD batteries in the 80's, then starting around 1991 or so, NiMH became the domininant chemistry, and Lithium Ion started to turn up by the mid-late 1990's. I will mess with those first two till the cows come home, they are relatively safe as long as you don't over-voltage them too much or make them extremely hot (stuff that's bad for ALL Batteries), however, LIthium Ions I will only replace the cells - and nothing else.

I managed to get the original battery working (for a few days at least) on it's O.G. 25 year old cells by hitting it with about 20VDC of current from a Toshiba Sattelite Laptop charger - being careful NOT to charge through the "Sense" Pin. I then let it charge in Windows 95 for about an hour, and managed to hang out on our patio in the cold for 30 minutes surfing the web over WiFi while tethered to my phone which was connected to our in-house WiFi. I then returned to the bedroom to keep up the cycle, well, while I was using the laptop on my lap, I heard a loud POP! And opened it up to find the cover h ad blown off and a new crack was in the plastic in the bottom. The pop was the top of the 3rd row from the back of the battery popping.

Then I ordered the OP-570-4701 battery. This battery is the type I later found out the M/75 uses (though it can also use the older ones as well oddly enough). The difference is this one is a "Smart Battery" which contains a little logic module. I did try altering the case to get it to fit in the second battery slot but I could not get the OP-570-4701 to work in the 40EC, it'd just pop up as "not charging" probably because the circuit inside the battery was locking it out. I wound up instead cannibalising it for the cells which I used to fix the original 4401 battery, as well as replace the burned up thermistor.

Then I ordered the OP-570-4001 battery, which I managed to jump start as well after blowing up that one's thermistor and replacing it with a 10K resistor after checking the one in my 4401. Well, I got it working, it ran again, for about 30 minutes, off BOTH battery packs....however....I did not trust it, and thank god I did because it would have been "Bye Bye Versa". The next morning I put the battery into the Versa and try to run it off the battery - well, it was fully charged, and what happened I could only describe as a somewhat dissappointing spectacle. The battery popped after being in the laptop for 2 minutes, and was hard to remove, so I carefully worked it out with a screwdriver with zero damage. Then I set it on my desk for a few minutes.....then I was in the other room making breakfast and I heard a loud "BANG!" - I walked back into my lab and found the battery had blown it's lid and not one but TWO cells had popped. YEESH! And it was FIZZING too. So I grabbed a rag and a pair of BBQ Tongs (rubber ended of course) and hauled that puppy out onto the patio where it could put on a show for our crazy neighbor lady (hopefully scare some sense in to her). I brought it back in before work.

I then replaced the 4001's busted Cells with others, and the battery was back to normal.....or so I thought......

Well, next day, it was hard to remove, the laptop was still running off that battery, but I could see now 4 of the original cells were BULGING! EEK. So I discontinued and recuycled it accordingly. I now plan to replace the cells in the 4401. I'm also toying with ideas of powering the laptop using one of those large USB battery packs for recharging smartphones. But that's another post for another day - as it's going to take a lot of R&D and some actual cold-hard science rather than hacks to make sure that works properly.

That said, that battery did damage the replaced power board, at least for awhile, it seems to be working off of it now, oddly. But I'm planning to fix either one of them. But that too is a future project. For right now, the Versa 40EC is working fine as/is. I also transferred the slightly more flickering screen from the M/75's case (NL6448AC30-10) into the 40EC as I'm not using it as much currently.

So on the todo list for this thing now is....

- New PCMCIA Door as the one from the 40EC is on my M/75 right now (plan to try a plastic molding technique I learned from Matchbox Car restorers on Youtube, might use JB Weld to make the part)
- Repair or Replace the Screen Panel (another 6448AC30-06 most likely, I think this one is just tired, has a mild yellow tint to it too).
- I'm looking at acouple VX Pocket Digital Audio Cards to maybe try this things digital audio capabilities
- 8GB PATA SSD to replace the original drive (because I like some space for Windows For Workgroups and DOS, I want to do this for both Versa actually)
- Rebuild the battery and come up with a way to keep cover cover secure, but removable should I need to replace cells again
- Get another Cisco LMC-352 to put in this computer

That said, I'm still bringing it out periodically. still and it's still a happy little PC. It ran 95 great but later I Put FreeDOS on that drive (which now hosts a triple boot config of DOS 7.1/WFW311/Win98SE and runs on the M/75).

M/75 UPDATES

The M/75 has been seeing FREQUENT use lately, running in 3 different environments on the frequent - a 98Lite tweaked version of 98SE, a copied over install of Windows For Workgroups 3.11 so I could run the Words+ device on this thing without switching to the old 220MB HDD which has Drivespace on it (yeah, backing that drive up was a yoyal PAIN - about 3 hours of using FTPSRV from mTCP on the versa and Filezilla on my Win10 laptop).

I've been experimenting with the Windows Sound System a bit. I found a way to get SOME SoundBlaster compatibility out of it using Windows 98 Se. Windows 98 SE installs the Crystal CS2431 chipset audio as a "Windows Sound System Compatible Audio Device" and then installs parallel a "SoundBlaster Emulation" - which works off the settings of A220, I3, D5 - and works fairly okay in most cases with things like NESTicle. It presents itself as a "SoundBlaster 2.0". However, if I leave to DOS, this does not work so hot (might need to try the "Set Blaster" environment variable........if not, maybe there's a way I could create my own Driver for this for DOS......I've got some thoughts...). I've also found it glitches sometimes in Windows games where Diablo and Microsoft Golf 3.0 sound downright DEMONIC (ie low slow voices, like something in the Sample Rate in those games is causing some kind of speed/pitch based hilarity to ensue). It' handles MP3 well though. It seems to be pro-grade and allow for multiplexing though so I'm testing it out as a 486 DAW type setup. Also, I might be able to slap in an Adlib only PCMCIA card since I don't think this thing has OPL - even thoug hthe drivers come with OPL3.drv

This thing does, oddly, run better than my AMD 486 DX4 Desktop does, even though the bus and clock speed is slower, not sure if it's the extra 8K L2 Cache or not. Windows 98 SE only takes about a minute give or take 30 seconds, to boot. When it's up, it's quite snappy save for Retrozilla or Seamonkey (which are kind of big for a 486). Diablo plays at full speed even if it does sound like everyone is Andre the Giant on Valium.

I also got Virtual Game Boy running on this thing in Win98SE and it runs GLORIOUS. Probably the first time that old Game Boy Emulator ran well....also, oddly, ZSNES runs okay-ish on it as well, enough for me to really enjoy Mario PAint (yes, I'm nuts, I do my SNES emulation part time on 486 hardware....that was my original MO in 2000). It'll probably kick even more hinie when I put an SSD in and get that 32MB Upgrade RAM card for it (so I can put the 16 back in the 40EC). My wife played some Tetris on it the other night.....I'm getting her ready for some LAN gaming between this and the 40EC sometime down the road.

But the biggest achivement was getting that Words+ Thing working........there's a part of me wondering if this was a prototype. Taking it apart revealed it had 2 circuitboards and a NiCad battery on the verge of spilling it's guts but still somewhat holding a charge. There's all sorts of "internal only" ports, with ribbon cables coming out of it.....

How I got it working was I looked at the battery and determined it uses "3/4 B" Cells at about 1.2v each = 9 volts DC. I also figured out the charge port only CHARGES the device, it won't power it for whatever reason.

I also figured out the M/75 and Words+ were a package deal. See, Words+ is the company that m ade it, this was their "System 2000" system, and probably has the name "Commpac" on it because it's meant to be "compact" and "portable" - if a 7LB laptop + 6LB block of Fry's components and DEC hardware counts as "portable" in 1994. Apparently Words+ used five different computers with this system, likely all "touch Screen" models - the NEC Versa of course (my E-series would also be a match as thos ALSO came with touch - 40/50 EP & ECP.), other options were Pegasus, Pegasus II (not sure what those are), Sager 75xx (famlliar, Sager was made by Nan Tan and I had a Prostar 9200M and Duracom 5110D which were lower end versions of that model), some other Sager model (probably similiar to what I had), and then "other" (so you could slap this thing on a ThinkPad and it'd probably look meant-to-be).

I instead lopped off the cord from the NiCAD and wired it into a 1/8" phono mono jack and used a multi-voltage charger on 12VDC at 0.5A and it works. When you turn the volume knob it clicks on and goes "Welcome to Wally words 1.128". You then have to initialize it through the Words+ programs (of which there are 3 on the hard drive that I'm aware of ATM - Talking Screen, EZ Keys, and Some other one for DOS which the name escapes me). It seems the voice synthesizer portion of the unit utilizes the Serial Port to work, as when you intiialize it it runs a series of tests on the assigned COM port at varying baud rates, on my unit stopping at 2400 baud and then you get the synth saying "COM Settings Initialized" - after that, it works for awhile, and then drops off the COM ports. It seems to only work off the SocketIO serial card that runs into the case via a ribbon cable, then to another ribbon cable, wired to the internally accessable DB-9 serial port......talk about hodge podge, thats what makes me think this is a Prototype (aside from the heavy use of what I assume is plastic weld for all the plastic bits that make up the case, and all the ribbon cables).

So far the only app I've figured out is "talking screen" for Windows 3.1, which basically requires the computer be in 256 color mode, and then it displays a hiearchal system of pictures for a person to tap on to communicate. So you'd tap "food" and then it'd say "I'm hungry" and then go to the next screen showing options for food, and then you tap that selection and the speech synth states what food you want.

There are multiple voices to the device, like Eeprom Ernie or Beautiful Betty, or Billie the Kid (which was what it was set to and had a strange Stephen King movie vibe that caused my wife to run out of the room). I'm thinking I might be able to use this in my compositions on BandLab or something.....AutoTune an old Speech Synth anyone?

I also ordered a touch screen for the M/75 but it turned out 9.4" was not the "viewable area" but rather the size of the whole darned screen! I also tried asking some chinese suppliers and none of them had a "screen that fits that application" so I think I'll just wait around until I can get a MicroTouch LCD that's 10.4" big diagonal with a 9.4" viewable area and has a 5 wire tail. I'm pretty sure one will turn up eventually. I have been tempted to attempt to make my own using foil tape and plexiglass though...so who knows. I returned it and at the same time as the return the AT&T branded NEC Docking Station II I'd been stalking on E-bay for months got REALLY cheap - $27.95 cheap, so I may start trying these out as my main retro-system before too long. Right now the docking station is on it's way to my apartment, and were re-arranging for our various business ideas.

The reason this dock works is actually, AT&T's Safari models on the higher end were actually rebranded NEC Versa (with bright gray bezels and turquoise switches and buttons), these included the 3180, 3182, and another 100MHz DX4 model later on. This dock will be used with the M/75 AND the 40EC, I'm planning to put Ethernet and a OPL Compatible sound card in it.

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  • 40ec battery life.jpg
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    40EC running on Battery in Win95 on my Patio one night....got 30 minutes
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    NEC OP-470-4401 Battery Pack with blown Cell (before replacmeent)
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  • Using M75 with Words.jpg
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    Using M/75 with Words+ Device (Initializing COM Ports)
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    AT&T Docking Station for NEC Versa
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~The Creeping Network~
My Website - https://sites.google.com/site/thecreepingnetwork/home
My Youtube Channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc6sYw9FvwuKahBHE_06diA

Reply 4 of 6, by chinny22

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Thats a lot of work for a "just a couple of laptops " I think most of us would have given up on them long ago.
Can tell NEC Versa's are where your interest is. glad your able to keep them alive
And that AT&T dock is awesome!

Reply 5 of 6, by creepingnet

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Okay, today time for something truly different......It's not NEC (unless you're talking about it's current monitor)......I guess we'll just call this Tandy Tuesday......hehe

So here's the build-up of my 1985 Tandy 1000A That I bought from Value Village in 2007 for $10.

THE BACKSTORY

I've been into retro-computing for over 20 years now. I started in 2001 out of the want for an internet connected computer of which I could not afford at the time. So much like my guitar hobby - where I bought up cheap department store guitars and then tricked them out with "diamond in the rough" parts begotten from other guitars, I started doing the same thing with old computers. My first computer was a Tandy 1000 SX in 1997. I alway regretted putting it on the Curb where hopefully someone now has it in their collection - I did this because the PIT failed and I was getting an ERROR I/O of 8253 message on boot....of course, at the time, I had no idea what that meant. Oh well, live and learn.

Skip aheady on practically the 10th anniversary of me getting that old 1000 SX, and I wander into Value Village like I did almost every weekend looking for old 8088-80486 IIBM Compatibles and old Macintosh stuff. Sitting on the shelf were 2 computers, a Mac SE FDHD (which I still have), and next to it, a Tandy 1000A. They were asking $10 for each machine so for a $20 I left Value Village a happy man now the proud owner of yet another Tandy 1000 (and I already had an EX at the time at home), and a Mac SE FDHD. This was September of 2007.

THE TANDY'S FULL STORY THUS FAR

So when I got that Tandy home, I was determined to keep it stock at first. It was literally pristine - never been upgraded save for a single 640K DMA/Memory upgrade card, and it came at just the right time, the weekend before I'd bought every single boxed Sierra game the local Liquidation Store in Everett had for $20 (still have those too). And the week before that I was in Lynnwood digging around a goofey little thrift fanning off of the east end of 196th st that had a bunch of 3M boxes full of 360K Floppy Diskettes full of strange old DOS and BASIC software. (still got those too, hehehe).

The first thing I had to buy was a Tandy 1000 85 key Keyboard, the proprietary big DIN-8 one (same keyboard it still has today). The keyboard was bought on E-bay for about $30.00 at the time (prices were already going up on the 1000s back then as XT's and AT's were "cool" by that point).

However, I just can't leave such a machine alone and force it to live the rest of it's time with me anti-social and munching away at rotting 360K Floppy diskettes.

So not long into it's early days, I'd say around December of 2007-January 2008 I had purchased 2 XT-IDE cards, one for the Tandy, and one for my IBM Parts Mutt. One assembled, one as a kit. The Kit one I sold to someone else, so the Tandy got a Advanced Information Concepts SCSI Card instead, and a leftover macintosh SCSI Drive formatted to FAT-16. The HDD was an 800MB Drive out of my Power Macintosh 7100/80 (which had been upgraded to a 3GB drive at that point).

The new HDD was populated with MS-DOS 6.22 + Windows 1.01, 2.03, and 3.0 (only the third of which I ever used), plus a pile of really old DOS games and all those Big Box Sierra titles (Manhunter 1 & 2, Leisure Suit Larry 1-3, Emporer's BeQuest, Kings Quest I-V, Police Quest, Police Quest 2, Space Quest, Space quest 2, Hoyle Card Games......plus some more).

Then the Tandy was outfitted with Microsoft Network Client 3.0 for transferring files (no mTCP back then), and networked onto my Windows 2000/98Se/95/ForWorkgroups LAN. No web browser, I tried getting Bobcat and Lynx to work but never had success, I also tried Minuet with no luck. However, I did put Mike Chamber's LeetIRC on it fairly early on and used to hang out with the VCFED people chatting on it.

The Tandy, TBH, did not get a whole lot of work for all those years outside of a few hard disk replacements. In 2012, I converted the XT II to my 486 that I currently have, sold the parts, but kept the XT-IDE. The next year (2013) the 800MB SCSI Drive died, so I sold the controller on e-bay and put the XT-IDE from XTII in and since then it's gone through 2-3 8GB HDD. The next one will be a brand new PATA SSD. I just run them till they get flaky and then recycle them. With the Tandy, because I don't need DDO due to the XT-IDE, I don't really have much problem backing up and restoring the drives when replacing - I just drag and drop to my modern computer, then use a USB to PATA converter to drag the entire DOS install on top of a freshly formatted and installed drive and BINGO - 100% fully booting identical setup in about 20 minutes.

Last summer I started work on designing/building a lightpen for the Tandy 1000 that I could maybe sell in an online store or via LoTech or something. I've halted development temporarily to focus on other more pressing projects but this is something I'm messing with. One of my test subjects is an AMF "light pen" that's actually a barcode reader I might rewire as a "dual purpose" device - now that'd be cool....lightpen AND reading barcodes! Heck yeah. But we'll see, I'm still learning electronic circuits (an offshoot of building guitar pedals).

The most movement on this computer has been in the past year though. I started getting really good at setting up and configuring mTCP, so I got the Tandy ass setup to act as an FTP Server, as well as Bulletin Boards over Telnet (I usually do the Telnet Commands in a Batch File). This was my "gunea pig" for the rest of my systems including the two NEC Versas, my 486 desktop, 286, and others so I can push files to them over DOS. I'm also experimenting with using Links on it soon as well.

In March I picked up a Tandy TRS-80 Deluxe Mouse for it which despite everyone's complaints about it I actually get along with it really well, it's especially great for Hoyle Card Games Solitare and painting in TurboPaint.

My Next plans for the Tandy 1000A are to install an NEC V20 and an intel 8087 (I do play Sim City on this thing.....and Sim City does make use of the 8087), and then get a Joystick or maybe even build my own Gamepad (easy since I already have the service manuals in PDF format and the Schematics and all that complete with pinouts, that's what I've been referencing when it comes to the Light Pen).

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    Tandy 1000's 640K RAM Card
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  • t100nic.jpg
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    Tandy's Current Realtek NIC, Replced the 3COM in 2017
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  • t1000xtide.jpg
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    XT-IDE Version 1.0 Card The Tandy Uses
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    Tandy 1000A 2020 - Right After installing Deluxe Mouse
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    Tandy 1000A 2007 - First setup with new HDD
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~The Creeping Network~
My Website - https://sites.google.com/site/thecreepingnetwork/home
My Youtube Channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc6sYw9FvwuKahBHE_06diA

Reply 6 of 6, by creepingnet

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chinny22 wrote on 2020-08-11, 09:38:

Thats a lot of work for a "just a couple of laptops " I think most of us would have given up on them long ago.
Can tell NEC Versa's are where your interest is. glad your able to keep them alive
And that AT&T dock is awesome!

Thanks. I'm kind of obsessed with finding info on the lesser known or lesser talked about devices TBH. GEM Computer Products is my favorite desktop maker for instance. NEC's Versa 486 series intrigue me because they were going for big money back in the early 2000's for lord only knows why when you could buy a Sager or AT&T branded version for much less.

The Dock is actually fullfilling several needs as a retro-guy. First off, I can add wired networking and a proper SoundBlaster, which means I can use full SoundBlaster sound with the 40EC and have OPL on the M/75 without clunky/complicated emulation if even possible. Meanwhile, once I get the batteries sorted and get a digitizer on the M/75 screen + a pen (I've got some ideas on how I'm going to achieve this) - I'll also have a portable tablet for pixel art. Finally, if I ever decide to downsize again, I can have 2 machines configured separatley for older and later DOS games, and I could buy a NEC Versa P Pentium version of the same laptop to cover late 90's territory and they all share the same dock.

I actually use these for a lot more than just gaming. I also use them for circuit design (circuitmaker 2000), PCB Gerber files (traxmaker), guitar tablature (randytab), and I dabble some in game development with GameMaker, OHRRPGCE, and Adventure Game Studio a bit (though I've never finished anything yet). I also do a to of light duty web surfing in Links using these old boxes as well (I like reading websites still).

~The Creeping Network~
My Website - https://sites.google.com/site/thecreepingnetwork/home
My Youtube Channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc6sYw9FvwuKahBHE_06diA